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Crisis Over Identity

May 26, 2014
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The Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State

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It was called the “most significant obstacle” left to reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Furthermore, it wasn’t just anyone who made that statement. It was the Israeli with the most “say” in the matter today: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Just what is this “most significant obstacle”? It is the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. As the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) pointed out on their website, calling Jewish statehood recognition the “most significant obstacle” means placing it ahead of the status of Jerusalem, borders and security. Perhaps even more surprising than Netanyahu’s contention, is that so far, Netanyahu has been proven right.

The issue of Jewish statehood has garnered headlines, public comments from US officials and even a statement from the Arab League. In many ways, it’s the hottest issue right now in the Israel–Palestinian conflict. But why? Why would the Palestinians so ardently refuse to accept the claim? The Times of Israel reported that President Mahmoud Abbas has boasted he won’t even discuss the condition. On the other hand, why is Israel so insistent on the demand’s importance? It turns out that this debate is a lot older than the Israel–Palestinian negotiations, and even older than the modern State of Israel. It also happens to define the very nature of the Nation of Israel.

What Is a “Jewish State”?

On the surface, defining Israel as a Jewish state may sound confusing—after all, don’t non-Jews also live there? Some have even gone so far as to call the idea racist. But that’s not the heart of the definition at all, and one could even argue that the denial of Israel as the Jewish state is, itself, a modern form of anti-Semitism. In reality, the Jewish state is not about defining who can vote, or who can work, or who can live there. Nor is it about creating a state with a single religion, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rather, a Jewish state is about recognizing that Jews have lived in Israel and deserve the right to live in their own state in their own land. It’s about cultural identity on a national level. However, before we start questioning that idea, we had better look in our own backyard.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, in an article from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, noted that the concept of Israel as a Jewish state is no different than the way almost every other nation defines itself. “Israel is to the Jewish people what France is to the French people, Ireland is to the Irish and Japan is to the Japanese,” wrote Liberman. “Each nation has the right to define its state in the manner of its choosing. Just as Egypt defines itself as the Arab Republic of Egypt, and Greece as the Hellenic Republic, so too, Israel defines itself as the Jewish State.”

Furthermore, the entire concept behind the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians depends on Israel’s willingness to offer the Palestinian state recognition. Late last year Netanyahu said, “We recognize that in peace there will be a nation-state for the Palestinian people. And surely we are entitled to expect them to do the same: to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people” (www.mfa.gov.il). Even though we might disagree with Netanyahu offering up the Promised Land in exchange for peace, the irony that the Palestinians demand statehood recognition, while denying it to Israel is still noteworthy.

In fact, when one considers that Israel is a diverse society in religion and ethnicity—Liberman notes Israel’s Declaration of Independence guarantees religious and cultural freedom—the identity of Israel as a Jewish state is no different than calling the United States “American.” It’s about a predominant cultural identity that defines the state—but it doesn’t exclude those who don’t share that culture. Every US citizen can aspire to prosperity, regardless of race or background, but it’s still called the “American Dream” Even so, Israel is happy to be home to Christians, Muslims, atheists and agnostics, even though it is still the “Jewish State.”

Liberman wrote, “Israel’s democratic system of government, its separation of powers, its free press and its strong protection of civil rights ensure that these ideals are realized in practice. Thus, recognizing the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people does not infringe in any way on the freedom of religion guaranteed to all Israeli citizens.”

Why Insist on the “Jewish State”?

The INSS article that highlighted Netanyahu’s comments about the significance of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state said the matter addresses key fears for an agreement with the Palestinians—that a “peace” deal won’t mean real peace. Even if Palestinian violence is somehow resolved in a negotiated solution, there is still the threat that Israel could be overrun in more subtle, but nefarious, ways. One is through the so-called Palestinian “Right of Return.” While other people groups are absorbed into new countries to which they flee, the Palestinians have clung to their refugee status for decades—in some cases over 65 years. Their demand is to return to their “homeland,” which is NOT territory claimed by the Palestinians for their state. It is territory within the present nation-state of Israel. And it’s not just a few handfuls of Palestinians—there are potentially millions. In other words, it’s not a homecoming—it’s an invasion.

The INSS report said that Netanyahu therefore sees the “Jewish State” condition as incompatible with the “right of return” demand, at least on the surface. If Israel is the “Jewish State,” Palestinians can’t claim a right to overwhelm it with their own. Similarly, with a sizable Arab population in Israel, the “Jewish State” demand also prevents the Israeli–Arabs from breaking away into their own little quasi-states within Israel. The insistence on independence by some Israeli–Arabs borders on revolution, at least in their villages and regions. If Israel is the “Jewish State” in its entirety, then the Palestinians can’t back the efforts of Arabs to achieve semi-autonomy inside Israel.

Or, as Netanyahu put it himself, “The core of this conflict has never been borders and settlements. It is about one thing: the persistent refusal to accept the Jewish state in any border. The real key to peace is Palestinian recognition of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in this part of the world…We have to have the Palestinians come to grips with the fact that there is going to be a Jewish state, a Jewish nation-state here next to their state. It’s not too much to ask. It’s the minimal requirement for peace” (www.mfa.gov.il).

Why Refuse Israel as a “Jewish State”?

So, if the argument is so sound, why won’t the Palestinians accept it? Well, for one thing, they’ve got peer pressure in all the wrong directions. Earlier this year, the Arab League fully backed Abbas’ refusal to even discuss recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, according to Daily News Egypt. That’s everyone who matters in the Arab world basically spitting in Netanyahu’s eye. But why? A lot of it is history, or rather, the Arab version of history.

The New York Times, in their article “Sticking Point in Peace Talks: Recognition of a Jewish State,” highlighted this issue in their interviews with Palestinian leaders. Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, argued that calling Israel the Jewish state undermines his history and narrative—which the New York Times pointed out is diametrically opposite the Israeli history. And that’s the problem. The Palestinian version of the past claims that Israelis are the newcomers, the interlopers and the invaders. In other words, the Palestinian fabrication of history says there is no “Jewish State”—never has been, and never will be. That this denies piles of archaeological evidence and the Bible itself is irrelevant to them. The Palestinians still claim all of Israel, even if some of them are willing to “concede” a bit of “their land” to the Jews for peace. Some have even argued that the Palestinians have already made a huge concession to Israel simply by allowing Israel to exist on the land they have claimed.

For the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state means they must reinvent their past, they must accept that King David was Jewish and ruled over the Kingdom of Israel, and accept that Jews have lived in Israel for thousands of years. And, most importantly, accept that Jews have a right to the land. It means the Palestinians aren’t the victims of an aggressive confiscation of their homeland, but rather just another member of the tragic losers in humanity’s wars and conflicts. But regardless of whether or not the Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish State,” that doesn’t change the statement’s validity and history. It’s even older than the modern State of Israel.

Who Else Called Israel a “Jewish State”?

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Who’s the well-known leader of the most powerful nation on earth, who has openly called Israel a “Jewish State”? The answer is: US President Barack Obama. In his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama said, “American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel—a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.”

Furthermore, the Obama Administration reiterated that stance in clear language months later. In comments released in March by the State Department, US spokesperson Marie Harf said, “You know what the United States’ view is, and we’ve been clear about that, that Israel is a Jewish state.” So while news reports have implied that the US is waffling over backing the Israeli demand that the recognition of Israel as the Jewish state be part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, the fact is clear that the US supports Israel’s self-definition as the correct one. And they’re not alone in this position.

Perhaps the most important document in establishing the modern State of Israel is the United Nations’ resolution establishing “independent Arab and Jewish states.” That’s not the only time the UN resolution calls it the “Jewish State”—the phrase shows up 30 times in the resolution, according to a copy of the document on the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Included among those references is a statement on citizenship that allows persons to claim citizenship in a state other than the one in which they reside, “providing that no Arab residing in the area of the proposed Arab State shall have the right to opt for citizenship in the proposed Jewish State and no Jew residing in the proposed Jewish State shall have the right to opt for citizenship in the proposed Arab State.” Clearly, it was no accident or misjudgment that led to the UN understanding of Israel as a “Jewish State.”

Why Does It Matter to You?

If you believe the Bible is true, then you should believe that Israel is a state defined by the people of Israel—the Jews. If you believe that our Heavenly Father keeps His promises to His people, then seeing the Jews dwell in their own nation-state again is a great fulfillment of prophecy. And if you believe that Jews deserve the same rights as Italians, Japanese and Canadians to a homeland, then perhaps you should tell someone. There are plenty of uninformed persons out there, not counting anti-Semites, who need to hear the truth. Because all those who deny that Israel is a Jewish state aren’t just on the wrong side of history—they’re on the wrong side of the future as well.

Source: By Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update

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